By Bill Parry
Memorial Day is always a solemn occasion for Woodside residents as the 11377 zip code lost more men in combat during the Vietnam War than any other zip code in the country.
As members of the American Legion Post 1836 gathered at the Boulevard Gardens apartments Monday, they were joined by an unusually large crowd of elected officials, community leaders and the family and fiends of James “Jimmy” Lanza, a neighborhood super hero who died April 6 after a brutal battle with 9/11-related brain cancer, after more than a half century of community service. He was 71.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) presented Lanza’s family with a famed copy of a statement read into the Congressional Record in his honor, along with an American flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol.
“Jimmy meant so much to this community,” Crowley said. “It is my hope that this statement will serve as a record of his great heroism in our nation’s darkest hour and preserve his memory for generations to come. On the day that we pause to pay tribute to fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation, I’m proud to recognize Jimmy’s legacy of selflessness, service to our country, and goodwill he showed everyone who surrounded him.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) called Lanza a 9/11 hero who made a difference in the lives of many in the community. State Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-East Elmhurst) noted the size of the turnout.
“He gave his life to protect us, and it is important that we keep him, and all those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our hearts,” DenDekker said.”
Lanza served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and came home to join the FDNY, where he spent the next three decades. During the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Lanza was part of a team of firefighters that pulled 16 survivors from the rubble of the World Trade Center northern tower. Afterwards, Lanza spent months with his men on “The Pile” during the search and recovery mission.
“Due to his sacrifice when he rushed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and helped rescue victims, many survivors are now living with their families,” City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said. “His involvement with organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project and the American Legion showed his dedication to his community. We commemorate his life and his sacrifice for our city and our country.”
Constantinides also announced that the City Council recently approved the co-naming of a street in Lanza’s honor near Strippoli Square, which was named in honor of PFC Joseph Strippoli, a soldier from Woodside who was killed by a land mine near the Cambodian border in 1968.
“It is fitting that a street renamed in honor of Jimmy Lanza will be next to a square named after his close friend,” American Legion Post 1836 Commander Alan Feuer said. “Jimmy Lanza was a man who put community and country before himself. Jimmy always made sure to visit neighboring schools around Memorial Day to remind the students of the importance of the day to celebrate the sacrifices departed soldiers made in order for all of us to live in freedom.”
That message was received by Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth), who grew up in the Boulevard Gardens where Lanza was the co-op president for more than 15 years.
“Jimmy Lanza was a Vietnam veteran, a firefighter, a hero, a friend, but most importantly, a good and honorable man,” Barnwell said. “His life was dedicated to service and his loss is greatly felt across not only his neighborhood, but across the whole country.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr